The Onyanko Club

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Even without a history of Puritanism, Japanese television and mass culture systematically shy away from the controversial and subversive. So what in the world are we to make of the mid-80’s Onyanko Club? A strict translation of their name would be “The Kitty Club,” but seeing that nyan nyan was a widely used term during the same era for sexual activity (namely, the sexual harassment of women), a more apt translation would be “The Pussy Club.”

If the name of the band weren’t enough, they also starred in a child-targeted afternoon show called “Yuuyake Nyan Nyan” (meaning “Sunset Meow” to only the most naive viewers.) The producers evidently had much fun making this 19-person high-school girl idol collective sing somewhat inappropriate songs with a straight face to an audience of elementary and middle school students. Many Japanese today are puzzled on why no one complained at the time, seeing that the public culture was much more sexually repressed than it is now. On many fronts, the Japanese are more open about sexuality today, but Onyanko’s contemporary legacy Morning Musume perform nothing even approaching direct sexual content. In general, most pop songs about teen sex wrap up the message in metaphors and mystery, but the Onyanko lyricist — Akimoto Yasushi — left subtlety at home.

Ironically, many members of the group were kicked out for smoking or having boyfriends.

So, for your enjoyment, their 1985 debut single “Se-ra- fuku wo nugasanaide.” (YouTube video) Translation: “Don’t Take Off My Sailor Uniform.”

The lyrics in English (translation by me):

Don’t take off my sailor uniform.
It’s wrong for now. Be patient.
Don’t take off my sailor uniform
It’s bad, it’s wrong to do it here.

Girls are always “mimidoshima” [a girl who experiences sexual activity vicariously through other people’s stories]
I’m busy studying!
Ah, everyday.

I want to “do H” [slang for sexual activity]
before my friends
But I’m too cowardly to go farther than kissing.

I want to “do H”
like that shown in the weekly magazines [probably referring to Friday, etc.]
But it’d be a waste to give you everything,
so I won’t give it to you.

Don’t take off my sailor uniform.
You’ll turn up everything up ’til my skirt.
Don’t take off my sailor uniform
Don’t untie the ribbon on my chest.

What do boys do at that time?
I’m so interested!
Ah, such a mystery!

I’ve been invited on a date.
It’s boring to be a virgin.
Mom and dad don’t know
About us staying out tomorrow night.

I’m a little scared,
But it’s boring to be a virgin.
I’ll become an old maid, so before that
Eat my delicious heart.

Read more about The Onyanko Club in Part 2: Otto Chikan and Part 3: Stop It, Teacher.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
March 16, 2005

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

67 Responses

  1. Momus Says:

    I asked my captive Japanese person here whether this song made Japan a better or a worse place. Hisae was 11 at the time and watched these girls every afternoon at 5pm. She wanted to be one of them, but they were all 16 or 17. She said they made Japan better. Why? Well, it was the start of schoolgirls being presented as sexy. That gave comfort to men, and girls enjoyed the attention too.

  2. marxy Says:

    Why are you assuming I think the Onyanko Club is bad? I’m only saying it’s somewhat of an aberation in a generally traditional, subdued culture.

  3. Chris_B Says:

    I also asked my captive Japanese person here whether this song made Japan a better or a worse place. She looked at me like I was crazy and cursed me for a fool and told me not to ask stupid questions.

  4. r. Says:

    david,

    nice post. however as fellow translator, i would like to voice my opinion as to your translation of the word ‘mimidoshima’, a word that presents no small challenge in english.

    you give the meaning “someone who experiences things vicariously”. this is passable, but i’d urge you to consult your ‘koujien’ if you haven’t already, where you’ll find that ‘mimidoshima’ refers specifically to a kind of ‘armchair CARNAL knowdegle’ gained by YOUNG GIRLS thru the stories of others.

    which cumbersome at best. for the life of me i can’t think of a good word in english. the best i can come up with is ‘pillow talk’ but i’m still not quite happy with that. perhaps the french have a phrase for it? any help on this one from the franco(phones/philes) out there?

  5. r. Says:

    by the way, my captive japanese person this evening doesn’t seem to share the opinions of the other respective captives, but perhaps that’s because HE has a few things not in common with the others…

  6. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    I also asked my captive Japanese person here whether this song made Japan a better or a worse place. She looked at me like I was crazy and cursed me for a fool and told me not to ask stupid questions.

    I take it back Americans can laugh at themselves. Thanks for the giggle.

    Stick around neomarxisme long enough and she’ll be calling you a post-modernist.

  7. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    I think you might be a latent postmodernist Chris_B. Why else would you hang out here?

  8. Chris_B Says:

    Have you ever considered that I might just be a ornery contrarian? Or perhaps a conservative with a low tollerance for appeasement and foolishness? Or perhaps its the apalachian blood in my veins that is ever vigilant against citified dandies and feriners puttin on airs.

    But in all seriousness, my wife finds the fuzzy notion of postmodernism to be just as silly as I do. At least she is able to be amused by reading it where as I just feel sick.

  9. marxy Says:

    Personally, I’m not quite sold yet that Postmodernism (with a capital P) isn’t just window dressing for support of the Hyperconsumerist system. Who benefits from the collapse of high/low art, a blurring between the boundary between art/life, a decrease in the value of genius, and the assumption that no art can be original? The market does.

    But enough of that…

    Robert: nice advice on “mimidoshima” – it’s literally “becoming an ‘experienced’ woman only through hearing other people tell stories.”

    Momus: Thank god little girls became sexualized so that they could grow up to be even sexier tea-pourers for the male employees! Who needs equal wages when you can get attention from boys – sometimes in the form of being groped on a train!

  10. Momus Says:

    If you’re quite finished putting words in my mouth, can I move back to the song itself and observe that it is “a song of two halves”: the first half shares its theme with Janet Jackson’s “Let’s Wait A While”, and basically says Don’t try anything dirty with me whereas the second half says It’s boring to be a virgin and details plans for a sexual tryst “tomorrow night”. Now, when the song was played on TV, only the first half of the song appeared. Hisae had actually never heard part 2, with the injunction to “eat my delicious heart”.

  11. r. Says:

    david said: “mimidoshima” – it’s literally “becoming an ‘experienced’ woman only through hearing other people tell stories.”

    and i say: indeed. i don’t know how many others out there will be interested in the minutiae of the semantics behind “mimidoshima” but i thought you might also find it interesting that the “toshima” part of this word comes down from the edo period, when it was used to refer to females who were a little past their (physical) prime. overripe, so to speak.

    it is interesting to note that during the edo period, the zenith of womanhood (again, according to my japanese/japanese dictionary) was held as being exactly at the age of 20. the irony to relish here is that despite the increased longevity of japanese women, this idea hasn’t really changed that much in the past 200 years.

    in fact, if anything the ‘cutoff age’ has perhaps even gone down a few years (i’m thinking of the harajuku standard as the japanese ‘fountian of youth’ – if you are too old to hang out there, you are too old). all of this despite the NEETs, who are the only ones in japan who stand a fair change of sexually empowering single, working women in their 30s with no children with a high dispoable income.

    or i should say they are very sexually active, but not perceived as sexy by their society…

    your thoughts?

  12. marxy Says:

    Thanks to Hisae for that bit of info. As far as I can tell, the television show itself was pretty wholesome, and most of the kids didn’t get the joke, but it was pretty painfully obvious to anyone older what was going on.

    I’m going to assume that everyone meant “バージン” to mean “virgin” although there’s a small chance it just meant “young girl.” This is where Japanese readers would be helpful.

    One more linguistic note: the word “nyan nyan” was quite popular in the early 80s, used by older men in describing doing “things” to women while out on the town. My source said that the word was “like ‘sexual harassment’ before they had a word for it.” At least in its origin, there was definitely a nuance towards “men doing sexual things to women” (with or without their approval) and not towards an idea of proactive “female sexuality.” (Which is much like the fact that Japanese women’s magazines ask their readers “Who would you like to bed you?” instead of “Who would you like to bed?”)

    By the way, do I have no female readers? Does this also have to be a post with comments solely from males?

  13. r. Says:

    [continuing with one of my own thoughts here]

    so when she sings…

    I’ll be come an old-lady, so before that
    Eat my delicious heart.

    …i wonder just how old an “old lady” is? but of coure, when we were in our teens, being 20 really seemed over then hill, even in the west, no?

  14. marxy Says:

    all of this despite the NEETs, who are the only ones in japan who stand a fair change of sexually empowering single, working women in their 30s with no children with a high dispoable income. or i should say they are very sexually active, but not perceived as sexy by their society…

    If a society values “cute” (code for: pre-pubescent figure without breasts and hips) over “sexy” (read: post-pubescent figure with breasts and hips), a woman’s value already starts to decrease in the teenage years.

    As for “おばん” – there’s definitely some inherent “ロリコン” ideas in the song. From top to bottom, being sexy is associated with the school uniform, virginity, and youth. However, actually “doing it” would lead to old age, a “waste.” Some serious virgin/whore complex going on here.

  15. marxy Says:

    One more note: does it not strike anyone odd that the music itself sounds essentially like Jpop of the last couple of years? In two decades, very little has changed in melodic content and production style.

  16. Momus Says:

    do I have no female readers? Does this also have to be a post with comments solely from males?

    You have no female readers, and no Japanese readers, I’m afraid. Also, all of us here are western males with Japanese girlfriends. Which actually makes the “Japan bashing” that goes on all the more sinister.

  17. r. Says:

    a bit of an aside here…but does anyone else think it is funny that just because someone’s japanese partner (who are usually women from what i gather from the various posts here on neomarxisme) says something, that seems to make it instant incontrovertible evidence, a kind of argumentative panacea? why isn’t anyone asking questions about the demographics, social backgrounds, educations, family situation etc. of these individuals? after all, this is a pop culture quesiton, so i wonder how much of a factor should this play?

    in my opinion, this kind of evidence is at best novel, at worst…well, when i hear these opinions go uncontensted, i can’t shake the “well i heard it on Ophra (Winfrey) so [it HAS to be true]!” association.

    your thoughts?

  18. r. Says:

    nick says: also, all of us here are western males with Japanese girlfriends.

    and i say: speak for yourself. i have male japanese partners as well. in fact, hiroshi is saying hi to hisae right now!

  19. Momus Says:

    What, are you coming out as bisexual, Robert? Shouldn’t you do that on your own blog?

  20. r. Says:

    momus says: and no Japanese readers…

    and i say: hold your tongue, sir! i’ve found that very often, there will be a smattering of japanese readers (granted mostly male) on a page like this, but that they just tend not to comment. a fly on the wall. i was on the microsound list for a few years, and one day i got a peep at the membership lists and a quick glance at the discussion room stats. lots of japanese people were logging on, but very few were commenting. is this because they couldn’t speak english, because they were ‘shy’, or was it because of some other reason. i’m not sure. but i’m just saying, they very well may be out there.

  21. r. Says:

    i’m correcting something that you said, nick. nothing more, nothing less.

  22. Momus Says:

    i’m not sure. but i’m just saying, they very well may be out there.

    I’m sure you’re right. They are there in their millions, watching the brave gaijin speaking out boldly against the iniquities of their system, ready to storm the Diet with loud “Banzais!” when he gives the word.

  23. r. Says:

    ha, ha. if only it were TRUE. but certainly there are more than ZERO lingering about.

  24. Charles Hatcher Says:

    Also, all of us here are western males with Japanese girlfriends. Which actually makes the “Japan bashing” that goes on all the more sinister.

    So, Mr Unhippopotamomus, it’s okay, as a foreigner, to have an extreme opinion of Japan… just as long as it’s postive?

  25. Momus Says:

    Yes. I feel about Marxy’s comments about Japan the same thing I felt recently watching Martin Bashir’s Michael Jackson documentary. Jackson invited Bashir to Neverland as a guest, but by the end of the film Bashir is suddenly a judge, driving to Miami “for what would be our last meeting”, planning a showdown in which he forces Jackson to confront questions about which he’s been “less than frank”. And my question to Bashir is, when did you change from being a guest to being a judge? Which are you, a guest or a judge? Because you can’t be both.

  26. r. Says:

    nick said: Which are you, a guest or a judge? Because you can’t be both.

    and robert says: i admit that bashir was on a witch-hunt, but as far as marxy being a guest and a judge of japan and catching inordinate flack from you about it, i just have this to say…i thought life was all how we balence being both of these things…

  27. ankari Says:

    do I have no female readers? Does this also have to be a post with comments solely from males?

    I’m a female reader. I haven’t commented because I don’t believe I have anything to add to your debate, since I’m not Japanese (and wouldn’t want to distract you; I enjoy your discussions a lot). But I do exist… Just thought I’d point that out.

  28. r. Says:

    thanks for speaking up!

  29. Charles Hatcher Says:

    I feel about Marxy’s comments about Japan the same thing I felt recently watching Martin Bashir’s Michael Jackson documentary…

    Yes, but if I can carry on this somewhat perturbing analogy for a moment, I often feel about your comments on Japan the same thing I feel when listening to intransigent Jackson fans; I find such unconditional love as sinister as so called “Japan bashing”. Can the esteemed marxy and your bright self not, through these textual encounters (textual intercourse?), mingle your memetic material and create some form of Happy Medium Japan? A Yet-Also Japan, perhaps?

  30. der Says:

    Marxy — Bashir — guest: Hm. Why is someone who permanently lives somewhere a “guest”, just because they weren’t born there? (A very japanese attitude, by the way, and one that many people I know don’t like very much.) I can understand if you say that someone who just visits a place for a short amount of time isn’t justified to make comments because they bring too much of their own preconceptions, but I think if you put in the effort to actually live & work somewhere, you are absolutely entitled to “judge”. (Where the comparison breaks down again, actually, because Bashir’s judgement had, and was calculated to have, a real effect, i.e., it was an act of judging in the technical sense; marxy’s judgement on the other hand — no offense — is unlikely to have any effect, and is more judging in the sense of “that sushi was not so nice.” said by a normal customer (not a restaurant critic).)

    I’d actually be interested to hear if you have the same romantic feelings for Germany, Nick. (Unlikely, I guess. Although Berlin could be considered the capitol of the postmodern world where noone has a real job and everyone is working on some “project”.)

  31. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    The biggest problem with discussing Japan is that the discussion tends to go around in circles.
    It’s very tiresome.

  32. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    The biggest problem with discussing Japan is that the discussion tends to go around in circles.
    It’s very tiresome.

  33. marxy Says:

    The biggest problem with discussing Japan is that the discussion tends to go around in circles. It’s very tiresome.

    Yes, I agree. Every post descends into the same battle.

    Momus has not really gotten over his “gaijin complex” – the feeling that Japan is “mine” and that all the other gaijin need to go home and not ruin the virgin beauty of “my” Japan. This complex is why all foreigners living in Japan essentially hate each other.

    Now, I very much appreciate Momus’ post-modern critique of my critiques – I often go overboard or forget to consider angles – but in general, I am attacked with the attitude that all critiques are wrong, because as someone pointed out above, I am not ethnically Japanese.

    This drives me crazy because most of the time, I am only restating points made by academic works on Japan or statements from the Japanese themselves, which are often even harsher than anything I say. I am mediating and putting together others’ criticism more than creating some new breed of it. Momus refuses to believe that there is any kind of Japanese dissent, and I refuse to ignore what the data seems to suggest, and so we get into the same fight.

    My criticism often changes my arguments or softens my tone, for which I am grateful, but I don’t seem to have made a lick of difference in changing the other side’s mind. And someone mentioned that I also have not changed Japan, but I don’t really think that’s the goal here. I’m just trying to create a more balanced view of the Japanese cultural industries in English by providing information you’re not likely to see in most cursory articles about “Jpop is in!”

    For someone wanting a “fair picture,” I would read my blog AND a lot of other books on Japan. Admittedly, I’m trying to be a counterbalancing force – or perhaps, a revisionist one – to the idea of a problem-free, perfectly-Postmodern Japan of the Future, but you shouldn’t start here if you are a newbie. Open a textbook and learn about the great prime minister Nakasone, and then we can talk about his connections to the ultra-right and underworld.

  34. Chris_B Says:

    Maybe its time for those of us who are long term guests who happen to be unafraid to speak our minds about what we dont like to do a pennance list of 10 things we like. In my case since I no longer maintain an active website of words, I’ll make it 10 pictures or soundfiles. r & marxy, you want to heartfully challenge together in nature? Special Challenge Show for momus: 10 things you dont like.

  35. Momus Says:

    That’s easy for me. 10 Things I, Momus, Do Not Like About Japan:

    1. Sound pollution. ie, in the supermarket, some muzak, and by the fish cabinet the sakana song too.
    2. Pachinko.
    3. J-pop.
    4. TV comedy shows.
    5. Isakaya meals with 12 people that last four hours and during which you eat only 800 yen’s worth of food but have to pay 3000 yen at the end.
    6. Impolite gaijin.
    7. Roppongi.
    8. Small towns with no culture.
    9. Lack of sidewalks, the conflict between cars and pedestrians.
    10. The fact that I can never be entirely sure that the Japan I love isn’t partly the result of two of the major atrocities of the 20th century, the use of nuclear weapons on civilian populations.

  36. Momus Says:

    Meanwhile, back to marvelling at the most advanced country in the world:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4351639.stm

  37. Momus Says:

    “I want to be able to walk about in places like Shinjuku and Shibuya [shopping districts] in the future without bumping into people and cars,” Pal [the robot] told reporters.”

    Surely he should have said “I want to be able to walk about in places like Roppongi and Okubo [foreigner districts] in the future without bumping into American sex tourists and criminal Chinese.”

  38. marxy Says:

    “We aimed to create a robot that could live and co-exist with people.”

    Keep those research labs going or there’s going to be Philipina nurses running around!

    Are there really a lot of “American sex tourists” on the same scale of the organized Japanese sex tours that went to Southeast Asia and Korea in the 70s and 80s?

  39. Momus Says:

    Okay, that last comment was just to get the typical gaijin “Japanese are racists” joke out of the way. To balance it, here’s an observation Marxy etc would never make, from the Japan Times coverage:

    “Unlike the trend in other countries, including military robots in the United States, Japan has been keen to develop human-looking service robots that can easily interact with people.”

    Now, why can I imagine the “racist robots” line in this blog, but not the “pacifist robots” line? They’re both parts of the picture.

  40. marxy Says:

    Robot technology requires a lot of investment capital and R&D, and for the U.S. and Europe, robots are a fancy prestige item, but have no real practical necessity – except probably for military applications.

    Meanwhile, Japan is faced with the prospect of a major labor shortage, and instead of just simply importing people (which is what every other modern country does, no?), they are trying very hard to develop robots. Most likely, Japanese firms also see this as an opportunity to make a product other countries are not willing to invest in.

    The real questions are: Are robots necessary in today’s society? And also, is Japan actually going to have a useful robot on the market in the next three decades? Asimo can play the trumpet, and meanwhile, most Japanese firms’ IT divisions have to be imported from abroad since the locals can’t do the work.

  41. Momus Says:

    The thing is — and for Americans this is taboo — there is a link between the bad and good here, between racism and pacifism. Japan’s virtues and its vices are intimately connected. The desire not to have large immigrant populations undoubtedly keeps Japan’s levels of crime extremely low, and also prompts the development of peaceable service robots, a development that will help the whole world. America’s racial pluralism, while in some ways admirable, comes with the price tag of dangerous cities and high crime levels, and its robot program is predominantly military in motivation — robots will certainly be used in future Iraqs. So which is better, to be “racist” at home by excluding other races (while working on technologies which might benefit the world) or to be “racist” by invading lots of countries and using technology as part of an imperialist project that helps no-one but yourself and mostly kills everyone that stands in your way?

  42. Momus Says:

    (And by the way, Paul Wolfowitz head of the World Bank. Nothing quite that sinister in its import for the entire world has happened in Japan for decades.)

  43. marxy Says:

    The desire not to have large immigrant populations undoubtedly keeps Japan’s levels of crime extremely low.

    This is where I call your bullshit and total lack of understanding about America. The assumption that immigrants immediately join the criminal underclass is just so wreckless and awful.

    A vast, vast majority of immigrants to America are highly motivated to jump into higher socioeconomic classes. America’s crime is generally caused by the structural underclass – of Blacks whom we imported against their will and then treated like sub-citizens for a century more. Meanwhile, African immigrants of the 20th century who came of their own have a very high probability to move up to the middle class, exactly the same as the Jews, the Indians, the Italians, the Polish, the Chinese, the Koreans, and so on. The “American Dream” of escaping pogroms and finding a middle-class lifestyle was certainly real and still exists in some form today. My poor Jewish great-grandfather didn’t get off the boat from Russia in 1900 and start robbing people: he got a job as a peddler and worked his way up to General Store. Now in 2004, I have a ridiculous amount of first-generation American born upper-middle class friends.

    Japan, meanwhile, won’t let the Korean-Japanese assimilate even though they’ve been there forever. So yes, if you have a society dedicated to socially oppressing immigrants forever, they will be an underclass.

    Are you also not following all this crazy Rightist stuff with Japan trying to claim islands from Korea and the Korean PM saying things like “Germany has made every effort to reflect on its past, but Japan’s effort is not enough”? For some reason, Korea and China don’t think Japan is so pure-hearted.

  44. Momus Says:

    I’m not saying that Japan is pure-hearted, I’m saying that things are very complex. Bad motivations can have good results. It’s the same in a person: my vices and my virtues are intertwined in the ecosystem that is me. The sand in the oyster makes the pearl, the racism in Japan makes the robots that become Japan’s gift to the world.

    America also contains these intertwinings of good and bad. Much of the history of the US has been of appalling violence between different races. The appalling genocide of the native Americans. Slavery. The stuggle between blacks and Irish in New York to try not to be at the bottom of the heap. Even the Civil War, which had race as its motive. Well, America is currently at peace with itself, but at war with many other parts of the world. Japan in both internally and externally peaceful. That’s why I think it’s a model for the world, and America isn’t.

  45. Momus Says:

    have a very high probability to move up to the middle class

    It’s interesting to me that your American utopia is that, despite all the racial diversity, everyone is finally the same: middle class. I think this is a typically American perspective: the idea that race and class should become invisible because everybody is the same. You often talk about Japan being shitty and bland, but this sounds much blander to me. Japan to me is not a place where race is invisible, but a place where race is visible and important. Non-Japanese really stand out. The down side of that is racial discrimination, but the upside is that there is such a thing as “the genius of a race”. Restriction and flavour are related. Japan has “flavour” — Japanese flavour. That can be valuable. This is something that universalist liberals are always uncomfortable with, but postmodernists can accept: that it’s good to be situated. And of course it’s not incompatible with the celebration of diversity. What good is diversity if everyone is the same?

  46. Momus Says:

    You haven’t talked very much about your own Jewishness, but I certainly include the Jews in the idea of “the genius of a race”. And the Jews are possibly the only race with an even more extreme idea of maintaining their uniqueness than the Japanese, and not just at the Orthodox extremes. The big difference, of course, has been this whole diaspora phenomenon: the Jews have “wandered” whereas the Japanese have stayed at home.

  47. marxy Says:

    Momus, your Ultra-Contrarian lecturing – racism is progressive! diversity is bland! consolidation of political power is democratic harmony! Japanese Rightists are Internationalist Progressives! Up is Down (anything is right as long as it’s the opposite of what those awful middlebrow Americans think) – has become tiresome.

    It’d possibly be interesting if you posed these ideas as questions instead of unbendable Postmodernist dogma. Or if they had anything to do with the Onyanyko Club and not just part of your eternal campaign of Japanese Apologism.

  48. marxy Says:

    By the way, I’m half-Jewish and it’s the wrong half.

  49. Chris_B Says:

    momus: your “the thing is” post is so full of bullshit on the topics of: 1) development of robots, 2) Japanese pacifism, 3) crime levels in the US (relative to other cities worldwide especially), 4) the nature of racism, 5) the nature of imperialism, 6) immigration and assimilation, and 6) military uses of robots, both real and projected.

    Also, do you have any real understanding of the nature of or fucntion of the World Bank?

    However, thanks for your list of 10 things. Its very revealing.

  50. Momus Says:

    Well, that was a non-refutation refutation!

    Also, do you have any real understanding of the nature of or fucntion of the World Bank?

    Wait, don’t tell me… it’s all a capitalist plot anyway, so it doesn’t matter that the architect of the Iraq war has just been appointed head?

  51. Chris_B Says:

    I for one enjoyed the Onyanko Club song and the explanation.

  52. Momus Says:

    I’ll take that as a yes, then, shall I?

  53. r. Says:

    ten things i don’t like about japan

    1. not everyone is able (most are willing) to experience the ‘authentic’ japan (a scalene bermuda triange-like stretch of land between shibuya, nakameguro and daikanyama) that momus is mostly dedicated to describing BECAUSE of issues of race, socio/economic problems (even among the japanese), etc. although with that being said, recently he’s learned a little about the country side here…that he hates it! why DON’T they have any – from you POV – likable culture, nick? that’s because their traditional culture was discarded for and their consumptive patterns retrofitted to the consumerist desiring machine. only problem is they, even in hokkodate, have everything that is CONVIENIENT, but nothing that it INTERETING.

    whenever i’m in a ‘select shop’ in daikanyama, i always wonder why japanese and whites are the only clientele.

    2. the quasi-opposite of 1. that momus is so dedicated to being a PR man for this little sliver of japan that he adores he has ignored the rest of the rich panolpy here, and that BECAUSE of this, the readers of clique opera aren’t told about OTHER really interesting places/people in tokyo. one example (there are countless ones) would be the Senjyu area, two of the few ‘reincarnated shitamachi’ areas in tokyo, where recenty it gives one the feeling that it is going thru some kind of japanese, 21st century version of the Harlem Renaissance. will probalby move my studio there this year to be in the thick of it.

    by the way jean snow, a near-counterpart of momus, in that he is a kind of poster boy for the blind adoration of culture as consumerism sans the critical discourse (perhaps jean want to engage in it, but in my opinion he isn’t capable of it for several reasons) is also implicated in this. his page is just a raw optical organ…the “guest with no ‘judge’ function” stated in the either/or momusian lingo. scary!

    3. as nick says “Lack of sidewalks, the conflict between cars and pedestrians” but i would further this by saying the conflict of cars and people who AREN’T in cars (i.e. bicycle riders). that is way i took issue with nick’s blog a while back that glorified the bicycle, but forgot to include the bicycle RIDER in the equation. (don’t make me fish for the pertinent URLs.)

    4. again, borrowing what nick says and adding a little “The fact that I can never be entirely sure that the Japan I love isn’t partly the result of two of the major atrocities of the 20th century [caused by my country], the use of nuclear weapons on civilian populations”

    5. rude japanese (the demographic is quite wide) who don’t give up the designated seats on train to the people who these seats are for (the elderly, physically challenged, pregnant women, etc.) even though these people may be standing RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM, PLUS the fact that nobody around them (all of the ‘polite’ japanese that momus loves?) are also part of this little conspiracy since most of them (because of a warped, 21st centry spirit of ‘wa’) choose to pretent not to see what is happening. the 19th century of ‘wa’ would cause a japanese who saw such a thing to reprimand the infractor.

    6. and speaking of ‘wa’ i don’t like the fact that on the back of my box of ‘wa’, there is written in microscopic letters: “let’s enjoy ‘wa’ ourselves, together!” but that they forgot to mention that ‘wa’ is a concept that still, for the most part, applies only to the way two japanese people are supposed to treat one another. it is not a “‘wa’ du monde” applying to ALL humans. i hate that ‘wa’ needs to be updated but that many people don’t see that it does.

    7. i didn’t like it last year when audrey (from ok fred) invited me to come to an interview (to add my two-cents-worth to the translations) in which her young and beautiful japanese female fashion-designer friend (semi-famous) was being asked over and over and over again by the german woman (her second time in japan) to DEFINE ‘wabi-sabi’. the young girl couldn’t do it (because she didn’t CONSCIOUSLY know what it was and even if she did, couldn’t put it into words, since that literature – things like the manyoushu – isn’t really read by young japanese), the german girl INSISTED that IN FACT the DID know, and proceeded to ask over and over the same question for about 10 min. i sat there quietly, enjoying my designer cocktail thru my bitten lip, when finally i couldn’t take it any more, in an effort to safe the drowning little japanese designer, and rescue the Teutonic interviewer from herself, i interjected: “Have either of you ever seen Star Wars?” They both said they had. Then I said, “Wabi Sabi is like The Force, and all of the cool Yoda-types that could have told you what it IS have died out.”

    8. i don’t like (rail-thin) people in japan who don’t get that eating at an izakaya isn’t about being able to get their 3000 yen of food, it is about getting a PRICELESS amount of conversation between MEN and WOMEN, which doesn’t really happen anywhere else. cafes are for girls, bars are for boys, izakayas are neutral territory. (probably the fact that these conversation are in japanese makes things worse for these people?)

    9. i don’t like the fact that i’m not really sure sometimes if japan and i are realy trying hard enough to understand each other.

    10. i don’t like the fact that japanese people don’t believe in failure as the best teacher.

  54. les Says:

    The dialogue, debate about Japan has so far been, even at the most “dugged in” position, semi-reasonable. But man, Momus’ yin-yang, “the good of the bad” writeup above is some scary shite!

  55. Momus Says:

    I think it’s a very important point to make here. You cannot just “snip off the bad bits” and leave the good bits. Everything in a culture — as in an individual — is in a dynamic state of inter-relation. This is the theme of a lot of art, but I think particularly of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, in which we see a violent hooligan subjected to Ludovico’s Treatment, which makes him vomit at the mere thought of violence — and at Beethoven. Sometimes it seems that people like Alex Kerr are criticizing parts of Japan they don’t like in the belief that they can be cauterized, leaving only the “good bits” (the bits that Kerr, personally, likes). This is the essence of “reformism”. There would be no point criticizing if it were just a way to spread bad vibes, after all, and could achieve nothing. But what if it’s a wrong picture? What if not only can you not just snip off the bad bits and leave the good bits, but nobody can even agree what the bad bits and the good bits are? (Like us with our Top 10 lists?)

    You may find the idea of ambivalence scary, but the truly scary thing in this world is people with “moral clarity” — and the power to “cut off the bad bits”.

  56. marxy Says:

    You may find the idea of ambivalence scary, but the truly scary thing in this world is people with “moral clarity” — and the power to “cut off the bad bits”

    You remind me of those guys who said that America would never work without slavery.

  57. Momus Says:

    Your choice of tense there is odd. You chose “would never work”, a present tense, over “would never have worked”, a past tense, as if slavery still existed. The reason you did this is that if you’d said “You remind me of those people who say that America would never have worked without slavery” it seems much less like advocacy of slavery and much more like a realistic and critical assessment of the actual history of America. Because slavery (and the genocide of the native Americans, and all the rest of it) is a part of the American legacy, without which it would not be the nation it is today, or have the ambivalent status it has today (pre-eminent, yet seen by many as anything but a model of virtuous statehood). It’s precisely because of moral complexities like these that the naive “absolutism” you often propose doesn’t work. Every system is rooted in the ambivalent particularities of its own history. The Japanese know this well: they consume goods from around the world, but spit out the “soul” (metaphysics, ideology) before they consume them. Even their imported constitution has been slyly undermined by secretive cabbals, as you so often remind us.

  58. marxy Says:

    I think my tense and grammar were underminded by my morning grogginess.

    I do understand what you’re saying, and it’s a strong argument. But I think you wil also abandon it if we start talking about fashion, for example. I strongly believe that Japan’s high level of mass fashion sense stems from a stronger belief in orthopraxy and authoritarianism. There are plenty of creative dressers, but the “mass”-ness of Japanese street fashion develops directly from an obedience to the media not seen in other countries. And as Japan changes, this obedience crumbles and Japan becomes less fashion conscious.

    So, we can sit here and enjoy Japan’s mass fashion consciousness – I know we both do – but at the end of the day, I do have to question whether I am exploiting the end result (enjoyment of fashion) of a system that I don’t agree with nor have to contribute to (social/media pressures). An extreme example would be: yes this Southeast Asian kid is making me shoes for pennies and I am enjoying them, but should I really be supporting this kind of thing?

    The Japanese system does create good and the bad, but even if no one actively fights against it, I’ve been trying to show how it is deteriorating naturally. I may show signs of moral outrage sometimes, which I regret, but moreover, if the freeters quit their jobs and don’t have kids, there won’t be the “Japanese system” to discuss anymore.

  59. r. Says:

    Nick said: The Japanese know this well: they consume goods from around the world, but spit out the “soul” (metaphysics, ideology) before they consume them.

    And I say: Nick, I know that this has been your shtick for forever and a day, but I’m not so sure that just by “spitting out the ‘soul'” of the things that they consume, this means they (the Japanese) are free of their own metaphysics or ideologies.

  60. r. Says:

    Nick said: The Japanese know this well: they consume goods from around the world, but spit out the “soul” (metaphysics, ideology) before they consume them.

    And I say: Nick, I know that this has been your shtick for forever and a day, but I’m not so sure that just by “spitting out the ‘soul'” of the things that they consume, this means they (the Japanese) are free of their own metaphysics or ideologies.

  61. marxy Says:

    The Japanese know this well: they consume goods from around the world, but spit out the “soul” (metaphysics, ideology) before they consume them.

    Sometimes I think this is 75% a language problem. If the “content” of songs and plays and movies are in English (or another indecipherable foreign language), most Japanese fans will only pick up the carapace, not the meat inside. While Momus sees something intentionally anti-Platonic in their actions, I see possible linguistic determination. If the Japanese understood English fully (Momus’ greatest fear), certainly their understanding of Western content would increase.

    I’ve made the point in the past that Confucianism leads to form > content, and this is probably one of the fundamental principles guiding cultural adoption, but there’s much more linked to misunderstanding than intentional rejection.

  62. hayashi Says:

    I read these comments with great interest and I wrote my impressions about it (unfortunately in Japanese).

    Read and comment.

  63. marxy Says:

    Thanks, Hayashi. I very much appreciated your comments. I should translate the gist for the non-Japanese readers.

  64. hayashi Says:

    I read these comments with great interest and I wrote my view about it (unfortunately in Japanese).

    Read and comment.

  65. hayashi Says:

    あ、投稿されてないと思って二重投稿しちった! すいません、消しといてください。

    で、ぼくのポストの翻訳、是非是非!

    って、何食わぬ顔で日本語で書き込んだり(こういう風に誰かが先例を作ると後に続くのが「日本人」というやつなので、堰を切ったように日本人からのコメントが来るかもしれません)。

  66. marxy Says:

    日本語のコメントの洪水を頂いたら、とても嬉しいですよ。

  67. Chris_B Says:

    marxy said ometimes I think this is 75% a language problem. If the “content” of songs and plays and movies are in English …

    I had a fun discussion with a Japanese woman on a Clash message board. We both got a good laugh out of some of the liner notes mis-translations of the lyrics. As a fun exercise, go rent a DVD of an English language movie you know the dialog to and follow the subtitles to see how well it matches. I doubt there is any grand conspiracy amongst the translators or writers of liner notes, just alot of chuto hampa going around. OTOH as you pointed out somewhere in the pussy club thread, its hard work to translate lyrics and have them both make sense and have feeling.